Mike McGraw picks his in-season NBA awards
The NBA All-Star break is hardly midseason anymore. The Bulls have played 57 games, have 25 left and many team have played more.
But since it's a long break, this is the perfect time to announce the NBA's midseason awards. On the bright side, these picks are not likely to change by April when the season ends. Or by June 25, when the league finally gets around to announcing the winners.
More often than not, it just seems to be a certain guy's year. Last season, it was Russell Westbrook and this year, Houston's James Harden will get his due, probably by a wide margin. Harden is averaging 31.3 points, 8.8 rebounds and has seamlessly welcomed a star point guard to his backcourt. 1. Harden, 2. LeBron James, 3. Steph Curry, 4. Giannis Antetokounmpo, 5. Damian Lillard.
Rookie of the year
Two months ago, Philadelphia's Ben Simmons had this one locked up. Now it's become a two-way battle with Utah's Donovan Mitchell, who has averaged 22 points since Jan. 1 and has the Jazz pushing to make the playoffs. For now, Boston's Jayson Tatum has an edge on the Bulls' Lauri Markkanen for third place. 1. Mitchell, 2. Simmons, 3. Tatum.
Coach of the year
This one could still go a few different ways. Toronto's Dwane Casey deserves credit for bumping the Raptors' performance a few levels without many personnel changes. Denver's Mike Malone has kept his team in playoff position without a true point guard and with Paul Millsap missing 40-plus games. Quin Snyder will get support if Utah makes the playoffs. Indiana has been better than expected. The list could go on. 1. Casey, 2. Malone, 3. Nate McMillan, Ind.
There is usually a wide variety of opinions for this award, but Indiana's Victor Oladipo appears to be a runaway favorite. After disappointing runs in Orlando and Oklahoma City, Oladipo has evolved into an all-star, averaging 24.4 points. 1. Oladipo, 2. Gary Harris, Den.; 3. Clint Capela, Hou.
Sixth man award
Clippers guard Lou Williams could be a strong candidate for most improved player, since his scoring average of 23.2 points is easily a career high. But he'll probably settle for a near-unanimous pick as Sixth Man. There is no competition. 1. Williams, 2. Jordan Clarkson, Cle.; 3. Bobby Portis, Bulls.
Defensive player of the year
This is always a tough award to judge. People can look at blocks and steals, consider which teams are the best defensively, but there aren't many stats that can determine who actually plays the best defense. There is a guy who rates among the leaders in defensive rating, defensive win-shares, opponent field-goal percentage, blocked shots and team success. So I'm casting my ballot for Philadelphia's Joel Embiid. Trust the process. 1. Embiid, 2. Marcus Smart, Bos; 3. Dejounte Murray, SA.
Executive of the year
Houston's Daryl Morey obviously knew what he was doing when he took a giant step backward in 2015-16 after the Rockets reached the conference finals. Boston's Danny Ainge always seems to be ready when another team is ready to make a desperate move. Toronto's Masai Ujiri asked his coach to get away from isolation basketball and it's paid off. So that's my top three. 1. Morey, 2. Ainge, 3. Ujiri.
Last year, voters couldn't fathom excluding LeBron James, Kevin Durant or Kawhi Leonard from first-team forward. With Leonard hurt most of the year, add Giannis Antetokounmpo to that equation, if you know how to spell it. Jimmy Butler technically plays shooting guard this year for Minnesota, but let's just call he and Andrew Wiggins interchangeable.
First team: James Harden, Steph Curry, LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis.
Second team: Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard, Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge, Joel Embiid.
Third team: Kyrie Irving, DeMar DeRozan, Paul George, Jimmy Butler, Karl Anthony Towns.